Rekindling Responsibility for Our Elders

Today my dad called while I was busy at work to tell me that he had bought a house.

This is big news for two reasons — one, he hasn’t had a house in I think about 8 years, living as he has with his wife, happily, in a very nice snazzy motor home (I mean, really quite snazzy) out past 75 off Fruitville Rd. Two, this decision was made over the course of a week, immediately following the decline of my Great Aunt Ruth’s health.

What touches me and moves me as I get ready for bed is this — they have completely changed their lifestyle and finances to embrace the aging of our precious Aunt Ruth. Now 94, deeply spunky as can be and of course battling the inevitable deterioration that comes with her age, Ruth inspires all who meet her with her joyful way of living, her matter-of-factness and her friendliness and genuine care for others.

Our community is so segregated — in many ways, including by age.

It hurts me that our community is so segregated — in many ways, including by age. And it hits home when I see my Aunt Ruth in an island of houses left empty for the summer, remembering what a connected neighborhood felt like but without the energy or ambition to weave hers together (she already did that back in Toledo!), missing the sound of kids around and anxious of her own frailty and vulnerability.

It hurt me several years ago to see one of the other significant elders in my life, my grandother (“Nana-goat”), put into a place where all the people were older and sicker than her— and though I saw it was logically the “only way to go” for all the family, with full-time jobs, kids to raise, etc etc, it just felt wrong. I wanted her where she felt dignified, part of a group and surrounded by people who interacted with her not because they felt it was a chore or were going out of their way, not because they were being paid to, but because she was a real integrated, woven-in part of their world, and they of hers.  I’d walk down the hall to her room seeing the people zonked out in their chairs along the hallway thinking, “This is not the place for her” — followed by “This is not the place for anybody.”

Besides the feeling of wrongness (and an accompanying vision of communities where ages live close to one another and look out for each other in the ways they best can), the other feeling that’s stayed with me is one of helplessness.  Never being able to quite convey to my family members how I felt, without fear of them feeling judged — not being able to temper my anger or direct it in a positive way — and not feeling I knew of any clear way I could REALLY move the world in the direction I dreamed about, beyond theory and ranting about the reality I hate.

My father is shifting this segregation into integration, with his actions, his choices.

So — my father is truly my hero today. He has lifted up his ENTIRE life to embrace the dignity, well-being and wholesome healthy aging of Aunt Ruth. (Side-note: my father isn’t who I’d tell you on any given day is the most “aligned” with me philosophically, politically, emotionally, or who i feel closest to.  So, there go our assumptions about that stuff!)   He as one person (two, counting his wife) is shifting this segregation into integration.  He’s doing that with his actions, his choices — by responding to what he feels deepest in his heart. I know this because when he talks about the sense of responsibility he feels to take care of her and make sure she’s not “put away” where she’ll waste away miserably, this ever-stoic man begins to choke up audibly.

I am so proud to be part of a family that is ignoring the trend and blazing its own path of real, not paid, care and re-integration of the ages. I love that my father sees it as repaying a debt of gratitude for all she has given HIM — not of just helping her as charity because she’s broken or needy, in some savior kind of way. I want to challenge myself even more to spend time with my Aunt and with my family, and when the time comes, be as equally ready to adjust my life to accommodate my parents as they get older and require more regular care.

To me, this is such an important issue today — and I wanted to share this glimmer of hope that lies in those little and big things we can each do to shift it in a happier, healthier, more heart-felt direction.

I’d really love to hear of others’ experiences with aging in your life:  how you have dealt with the isolation of your elderly loved ones, or how you have witnessed their inclusion? what gives you hope?


Re-posted with permission from ABCDinAction.

Home page photo: Rosie O’Beirne

About the Lead Author

April Doner
April Doner
April Doner lives and works as a Roving Illustrator, telling stories of community thriving, abundance, and people-powered change through writing, photography and art. Originally from the wave-kissed east coast of Florida, April has found her way to Indianapolis, IN to join community-based innovators De'Amon Harges and Anne Mitchell at Tesserae Learning. April is especially passionate about revealing and engaging the strengths of people, groups and neighborhoods who have been marginalized by labels of deficiency, and in working to redirect channels of faith and funding from deficiency-based approaches and into the lives of the "positive deviants"--the unseen and under-celebrated organizers, story-tellers, healers, artists and others who are actively making changes in their communities and neighborhoods. Through Tesserae and Aprilart Studios, she offers services to strengthen community including documentation, facilitation, trainings, workshops and consulting in Asset-Based-Community Development, Theory U and other practices, as well as a full range of artistic services. April is a Fellow with the Asset-Based Community Development Institute and a Steward of ABCD in Action.

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